Russia has been accused of using phosphorus bombs on Bakhmut, a besieged Ukrainian city. The allegations, made by Ukraine’s defence ministry, have been supported by footage showing what appears to be white phosphorus raining down on the city. White phosphorus weapons are legal but using them in civilian areas is considered a war crime.
The chemical creates fast-spreading fires that are very difficult to put out, can cause severe injuries to humans, and can re-ignite when bandages are removed. Russia has been accused of using these weapons several times during the war in Ukraine, but the country has never admitted to it.
Bakhmut has a pre-war population of 80,000, but there are practically no civilians left in the area. Despite its questionable strategic value, Russia has been trying to capture it for months, and thousands of troops have died in the assault. Wagner paramilitary group’s commander has announced that he will pull his forces out of Bakhmut on May 10th due to ammunition supply issues, but senior Ukrainian officials claim that Wagner is redeploying mercenaries towards the city to capture it before Tuesday’s Victory Day celebrations in Russia.
The intense fighting comes amid reports that Ukraine is preparing to launch a large-scale counteroffensive in the coming weeks. There is speculation that the offensive could take place in the Zaporizhzhia region, which is about 80% controlled by Russia. The Russian-installed governor of the Zaporizhzhia region has ordered the evacuation of villages near the front line, and Russia considers the area as its own territory, following self-styled referendums and an illegal annexation last year.